Exodus 15:26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”
And so we ask: “If God put the disease on me, then why should I ask Him to take it away? If God gave it to me, it must be good.” This confusion regarding the origin of disease is one reason why there are so little results when believers pray for the sick.
We know that God is sovereign. Should He desire to do so, He can directly put disease on someone. However, let us understand the origin of disease, which is ultimately sin, whether personal sin or original sin. Satan’s work is to sin and cause us to sin, and through sin, we are subject to disease and death. Sin, disease, and death are the work of Satan. Can God allow Satan to torment us in order to produce a greater ultimate good for us? Absolutely. God allowed a messenger of Satan to buffet Paul to keep him from becoming conceited.
2 Corinthians 12:7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Whether or not this was a physical infirmity is not clear. God also allowed Satan to attack righteous Job.
Job 1:11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. 13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
Job 2:7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.
But in the end, after Job persevered, he was blessed twice as much by the Lord. And God also allows Satan to attack unbelievers, for they have chosen to follow Satan and to sin. As we see in the Gospels and Acts, many of those who came to Jesus had disease and demons, in addition to sin. We can say that in all of these instances, by allowing Satan to torment, God “put disease” on Job, perhaps Paul, unbelievers, and yes, the Egyptians. God allowed this for a purpose: to teach Paul and Job. For unbelievers? They are suffering the earthly consequences of their sin. AND, if they repent and turn to Christ, the work of Satan in their lives can be destroyed—their sin is forgiven and their disease can be healed.
One might say that the Almighty Sovereign God actually uses Satan to accomplish His purposes, or that God allows Satan to do certain things in conformity with the purpose of His will. When the purpose is accomplished, God then does away with Satan or his work.
2 Samuel 24:1 Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” 2 So the king said to Joab and the army commanders with him, “Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.”
1 Chronicles 21:1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.”
2 Samuel clearly says it was the Lord who incited David to take the census, yet 1 Chronicles in describing the same event designates Satan as the inciter. Is the Bible contradicting itself? Or is this simply another example of the Almighty God who uses his inferior enemy Satan to accomplish His purposes unwittingly?
Another example of God using the unrighteous to accomplish His purposes is seen in how the Lord used Nebuchadnezzar (“my servant”) to discipline Israel.
Jeremiah 25:8 Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, 9 I will summon all the peoples of the north and MY SERVANT Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. 10 I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I WILL PUNISH THE KING OF BABYLON and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the Lord, “and will make it desolate forever.
God used the unrighteous Nebuchadnezzar to discipline His people, after which He destroyed him. This is how God uses Satan. Interestingly enough, Isaiah uses Nebuchadnezzar to symbolize Satan!
Isaiah 14:3 On the day the LORD gives you relief from suffering and turmoil and cruel bondage, 4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury has ended!
…12 How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! 13 You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. 14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” 15 But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.
Perhaps the most profound example of this is found very early in Genesis. God allowed the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve from the tree. For what purpose? So that they (and we) would fall into sin, and ultimately have to trust His Son Jesus Christ for deliverance and willingly worship Him!
What is our perspective on all of this? We take the perspective of Jesus, which is a “ground-level” New Testament approach. Although God the Father has definitely allowed the sin, disease, and suffering, we see it as the work of Satan to be destroyed in the name of Jesus. Jesus came to destroy the works of Satan.
1 John 3:8 He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
Yes, we understand that for those who will be saved God the Father allows the suffering and disease so that through their healing and deliverance, they may turn to Christ. But to be effective in dealing with the disease at ground-level so that souls will turn to Christ, we must see it as Christ saw it, and treat it ruthlessly as the work of Satan. That is how the miracles occur—we destroy it through the authority Christ has given us.
Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
To deal with sin and disease effectively, we must see it as the work of Satan, and deal with it as such.
Finally, Jesus and the early church healed the sick in context of winning unbelievers for the gospel. By contrast, Exodus 15:26 was directed to the Hebrews, and these represent believers. For ministering to sick believers, James 5:14-16 teaches that “the prayer of faith will raise them up.” God generally wills to heal them. In line with Exodus 15:26, obedience to the Lord’s commands and confession of any sin is a requirement for their healing.